Connecting mindful leadership and emotional intelligence

The role of the Enterprise Leader is changing. Today's leaders must navigate volatility and unpredictability in the short term while staying focused on social issues and transformation in the long term.

To effectively balance these priorities, they must embrace mindful leadership. Empathy, authenticity, vulnerability, emotional intelligence and learning agility (sometimes described as "knowing what to do when you don't know what to do") should drive their decisions.

This grouping of mindful leadership skills has long been associated with emotional intelligence and "is a foundation for authenticity," says Evelyn Orr, Head of CEO and Executive Assessment North America at Korn Ferry.

Emotional intelligence is also at the core of the mindset we call ‘awareness of self and impact’, one of the five agile mindsets we've identified for leaders to develop the capabilities their organization needs now and in the future—along with purpose, courage, inclusion that multiplies and integrative thinking.

What “awareness of self and impact” really means

The awareness of self and impact mindset is more than just being self-aware. Self-awareness is commonly understood as recognizing what you're good at, what you're not good at and what you're working to improve. It's about having both the confidence to fully own your strengths and the humility to admit you have room to grow, as everyone does. Awareness of self and impact takes this idea three steps further.

First, it involves acknowledging that your self-perception may not align with how others perceive you. Most leaders have a lack in perception –things they would list among their strengths that others would rate as their weaknesses. Conversely, many have hidden strengths, things that are noticed by others that they do not see. Asking for candid feedback and tools such as 360-reviews can help identify these.

Second, it involves filtering the feedback you receive to decide what is worth acting on. While accepting feedback is crucial to helping you understand how others perceive you, it can be contradictory and isn't always relevant to your progress. You need to consider the unique contribution you aim to make as a leader and ask yourself, 'How does this feedback relate to the person I want to be, how I want to act and how I want to show up for my people? What and whose feedback am I not getting?'

Third, this mindset requires you to reflect on how your words and behaviors impact others and adapt accordingly. It's the belief that your ability to learn more about yourself is directly linked with your impact and contribution. This means engaging in a constant process of learning, improving, noticing the impact and making adjustments. And when you're able to see how your mindful leadership impacts others, you can take that knowledge and use it for better relationship and leadership outcomes. Awareness of impact requires communication and checking in with others—it's built on trust and reciprocity.

"Being able to continue to contribute and have an impact is related to your ability to continue to learn about yourself," says Orr. "And understand yourself and the impact you have on other people around you—that's worth your energy and time and investment."

The importance of impact in leadership

Hallmarks of mindful leadership include being willing to admit that you're wrong or that you don't know the answer to something and being willing to seek feedback and treat it as valuable.

Only by admitting what you don't know can you create the opportunity to learn it. Only by admitting that you're wrong can you avoid making the same mistake again. Only by seeking feedback can you be sure that you are seeing yourself accurately.

These behaviors don't just benefit you. Adopting them creates a more desirable workplace environment for people in your organization –or, the ‘impact’ piece of the awareness of self and impact mindset.

For example, take Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and author of the book True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. He recounts his experience of receiving feedback that triggered self-examination. He writes, "Leadership is the sum total of who you are. Leaders are developed, not simply born, and we can all develop ourselves to be able to guide others. Anyone who follows their internal compass can become an authentic leader."

While everyone can benefit from mindfully working on their self-awareness, certain groups have different relationships to their identities based on their lived experiences. Because of disparities in the workplace, it's often different for women and people of color. Women frequently evaluate themselves as less competent than they really are. People of color can be navigating multiple identities and cultures with hypersensitivity to their impact on others—to the extent that it can drain energy.

Though these are not universal truths; these trends are significant enough to demand our attention. For people belonging to these demographic groups, it's worth taking the time to consider how your gender or racial identity interplay with awareness of impact. As a leader, self-awareness in this instance can help you not only realize your own impact but also notice the identities and capabilities of others around you. This can give you a foundation to build a more inclusive environment.


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How to practice self-awareness in mindful leadership

Self-awareness is the other part of “awareness of self and impact”. It is hard to measure and isn't reliably self-reported. However, by using the following three strategies, you can be sure that you're constantly open to improvement and working toward true awareness of self and impact.

1 Step out of your comfort zone

You will not develop a good sense of your strengths and weaknesses by sticking to things you do well. Deliberately seek out experiences that bring you to the limit of your current abilities and put you in a developmental frame of mind. Stepping out of your comfort zone, when done with intention, allows you to learn more about yourself. It also affords you an opportunity to reflect more deeply on your identity, who you want to be and how you want to show up in the world.

"Anything that puts us even a little bit out of our comfort zone brings about an opportunity to reflect and learn something new about ourselves," Orr says. This can range from changing the route you take to drive somewhere or going out for the day without an agenda.

2 Seek feedback and evaluation

Feedback from a range of different perspectives is essential to help you identify blind spots and hidden strengths. A survey or real-time feedback and structured 360 reviews can help your intentions match how your behavior is perceived by other people. This provides a helpful gap analysis that surfaces hidden strengths and weaknesses.

Simulation assessments and role-playing are other helpful behavior evaluation tools. An assessor—or trained coach—prompts you with various scenarios followed by feedback and coaching. You then have the opportunity to examine your impact in real time and make adjustments to improve.

3 Make sense of your experiences

When you're forced to make difficult decisions and weigh competing priorities, it's important to closely examine your thought process in the moment. What led you to choose a particular option? What does that tell you about yourself?

You must also look back at past experiences and previous behaviors and try to learn from them. Recalling how you felt about memories from years ago and how your view has changed over time can be particularly helpful.

"There's no time limit on extracting meaning from your experiences, both positive and negative," Orr explained. "When we reflect on early key experiences, failures, successes, we extract new meaning and build our perspective."

Embrace the harmony of the five agile mindsets

The awareness of self and impact mindset is holistically linked with and interdependent of the other four agile leadership mindsets: purpose, courage across and beyond, inclusion that multiplies and integrative thinking.

Orr calls this a "self-reinforcing cycle". Mindful leadership enables you to tap into your true purpose. Articulating this purpose is what helps you to find the energy and courage to take on increasingly difficult challenges. Inclusivity, awareness of self, and integrative thinking all feed into one another to achieve these—and seeing these results fuels your energy further.

If you'd like to learn more about these five mindsets and how they can help you to grow your capabilities as a leader, get in touch with Korn Ferry to find out more about the Enterprise Leadership Institute.